January 20, 2014

A Winter Beer Tasting Party

In December a group of Ottawa bloggers and beer lovers got together for a 'Taste and Tweet' session focusing on winter beers and holiday foods.  Being in the grip of plunging temperatures and the holiday season we felt it might be good to taste some winter beers as well as ones we count on as holiday favourites.

Most 'winter' beers tend to be bigger ABV's and are richer in flavour or spice, much like traditional winter foods are heavier and richer. They are crafted for drinking by a fire, huddling under a blanket to ward off the cold or getting together with friends and discussing how much you miss the summer.

We hoped to help people with suggestions of beer and food pairings for holiday parties so what better way to figure it out but to have a party of our own.

We had the pleasure of hosting, Marissa Begin The Beer Gypsy (follow her here @thebeergypsy), Brett Jeacle Craft Beer Love (follow him here @craftbeerlove), Brian Papineau Bryehn.net (follow him here @bryehndotnet), Dave Price (follow him here @ve3bax). Katy Watts Sheltered Girl meets World and Ottawa Beer Events (follow her here @klwatts) popped by to drop off some beer but was unable to stay for the tastings.

*Check out their blogs for write ups on the 'Taste and Tweet' as well!

Everyone brought some beer to taste and in the end we had quite the line up.  In addition to the beer, everyone brought some holiday type foods ranging from cheese, cured meats, rillettes, chutneys, crackers and desserts.

Thirsty? We were.

I will admit once everything was laid out we seemed to have a daunting, but incredibly enjoyable, task ahead of us.

Our beers ranged from rare seasonals to home brews and then to beers more readily available in the LCBO and local breweries.

Here is a rundown of the beers we tried:

Friar Buck's Sarrasin - Made by Church Key Brewing. It has buckwheat in the malt giving it a nice finish. It is lighter in colour than I expected. It was a great start and deceiving at 7%.

Lustrum Sour Anniversary Ale - From Driftwood Brewery this beer was quite the treat for us. Marissa brought this rare treat that is brewed in British Columbia. It comes in at 9.4% and carries an amazing sour taste with a some dried fruit notes. It was voted our favourite out of province beer.

Bah Humug - Made by Wychwood Brewery this is a traditional Christmas beer that is available every year in the LCBO. If you are looking for a beer with light spice notes for the holidays then this is it.

Winter Ale -This one comes from Great Lakes Brewery. It has all the rich spice notes that you want in a winter warmer. It was our pick for best readily available seasonal beer. It was available in the LCBO and reasonably priced.

Nickel Brook Cuvee - Brian brought us a year old bottle of the cuvee and we had a two year old bottle in the cellar.  We opted to do a side by side. The 2012 unfortunately did not hold up in its aging for whatever reason and left everyone slightly disappointed. The 2011 however was still beautifully spiced and mellowed to an almost spiced wine flavour.  The best news? Nickel Brook just released the 2013 to the LCBO so head out now before it is gone. Buy two, one to try now and one to age.

Reserve de Noel 2013 - Brett made a trip to Quebec to get this one for us. Brewed by Les Trois Mousquetaries this spiced beer comes in at 10.5% and the bottle is worth sharing. A perfect host/hostess gift. We voted this one a 'need to find' beer. When the cold hits and the Christmas lights go up this is one you want in your fridge.

Our next three were barley wines. We had Mill St's 2011 and 2013 Barley wine as well as Howe Sound's Woolly Bugger. We did a side by side of the Mill St's and voted the 2011 the better of the two. Sadly Woolly Bugger was not anyone's favourite. Perhaps if it had been aged it would have balanced and mellowed more. The barley wines are available in the LCBO (minus the 2011 as it was from a cellar)

Chimay Bleue (Grande Reserve) - From Bieres de Chimay this Belgian strong ale is a winter and holiday staple for Dave. It comes in a 9% and is perfect for warming you up on those cold winter nights.

Blackstone Porter - Another one from Driftwood. Porters are a winter standard and this was a good quality porter. At 5.1%  it was nice balance of roast and malts.

Nutcracker Porter - Anything with a name like nutcracker screams holidays. This porter, available in the LCBO is brewed by Black Oak Brewing Company. With our first drinks the table decided that this is a perfect holiday breakfast beer. Yes, breakfast.

Old Kentucky Bastard Imperial Stout - Voted our other 'need to find' winter beer, this imperial stout from Nickel Brook comes in a 10% and brings a ton of flavours with it. The nose was full on bourbon. The beer brings hints of orange, vanilla and chocolate on the finish. Buy some and age it or drink it now, you can't go wrong. It is available in the LCBO for limited time.

IX Cacao Triple Chocolate Stout - A treat bottled for us from Turtle Island Brewing. Lots of dark chocolate flavour. Even had a bit of cigar notes to it. Reminded us of rich dark chocolate cake and it was just begging for some vanilla to round it out.  Limited run in kegs around the city.

Big thanks to Turtle Island for bottling this for us.

Expedition Stout - A Russian imperial stout from Bell's Brewery in the USA. Boozy with a bit of raisin and chocolate. Nothing like 10.5% to warm you on those cold winter nights.

Chocolate Manifesto - The name says it all. This sweet milk stout from Flying Monkeys packs a big chocolate flavour. From the nose to the finish it is all chocolate. A great bottle for sharing with those rich holiday desserts or sipping by the fire.

It should be noted that we also had two growlers from Big Rig. With all the other bottles we were not able to crack them open that night but did so the next night.

Gingerbread Porter - Like drinking a gingerbread cookie in all the right ways. Great spice balance that reminds us of holiday baking at its best.

Gingerbread Porter-cookies in a glass

Triple Chocolate Cherry Imperial Milk Porter - Sweet, smooth, chocolatey with a hint of cherry. A perfect after dinner beer.

We also had some home brew. Dave brought a Scotch Cap Saison that had lots of black raspberry notes. Brian offered his Bitter Holiday, with cranberry and nice bitter finish. Brett favoured the group with his Rum Runner. This double brown packed amazing rum and vanilla notes.

Rum Runner and dessert. A match made in heaven..or at least in Brett's kitchen.

The holidays with its presents, decorations and parties are over but the winter is far from done. All of these beers are perfect to help ease away any chill you might have.

A big thank you to Brian, Marissa, Brett, Dave and Katy for a fantastic day of drinking, eating and tweeting. There is nothing better than a day filled with good people.

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